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From soccer to basketball, UND’s Tsotne Tsartsidze has made a successful transition – Grand Forks Herald

GRAND FORKS – Basketball was not Tsotne Tsartsidze’s first love while growing up in the Republic of Georgia. It was soccer. “It’s huge there,” said Tsartsidze.

But there aren’t too many 6-foot-9 soccer players running up and down the pitch.

So what attracted him to basketball?

“To be honest, I was tall,” said the soft-spoken Georgian, who has continued to improve since he transferred to UND last season.

“I didn’t want to play basketball at first,” he said. “I started playing when I was 8. After a year or two, I got better and I loved it.”

Despite its 1-8 record in the Summit, UND has shown signs of improvement recently and Tsartsidze has been a big part of that. Tsartsidze has reached double figures in five of UND’s last six games, with a season-high 19 points coming Monday night at Western Illinois. Last weekend, in perhaps UND’s two best games of the season, Tsartsidze averaged 15.5 points and 7.0 rebounds per game.

His play will be critical on Friday night as UND prepares to begin the second half of the Summit League season at North Dakota State, which walloped the Hawks 71-49 back in late December.

The Bison will present a huge inside challenge for UND as 6-foot-11 Grant Nelson, a Devils Lake native who is now on the NBA radar, and 6-10 Andrew Morgan combine for an average of 27.4 points and 13.9 rebounds per game this season.

Tsartsidze, a junior, is averaging 8.7 points and 5.1 rebounds. During the offseason, he specifically worked on his perimeter shooting. He’s now shooting 32.2 percent from deep and has hit timely 3-pointers to keep the Hawks competitive. He was 1-for-20 from beyond the arc last season, compared to 19-for-59 this season.

UND coach Paul Sather has seen Tsartsidze’s improvement and believes there is more to come.

“He’s shown really good signs of inside-outside rebounding energy, attacking and finishing at the rim,” said Sather. “He works on his shooting so it’s not like it’s surprising. It’s more like: ‘When is that light switch going to truly come on’? Because we see it every day in practice.

“Sometimes there is a process to all of this when you’re new. This is his second year and I really feel he’s starting to hit his stride. And he’s playing with a lot more confidence.”

UND’ confidence will be tested by the 5-4, 8-13 Bison, especially after their easy win over the Hawks back in December at The Betty.

“We didn’t come out of the Christmas break and play to that level we felt we could,” said Sather of the first Bison game. So we’re excited about this game. Hopefully, we can continue to be more consistent.”

UND’s focus isn’t on the Summit regular season standings. His emphasis is game-by-game improvement, the type that could make UND a scary team to face during the league’s postseason tournament in March.

“We have to learn how to play better in the second half,” said Tsartsidze of UND’s second-half plan. “We’re playing better and we’re more connected. Regardless of what our record says, we can be a tough team to beat when everything clicks.”

UND at ND State

When: Friday, 7 p.m

Where: Fargo

TV/radio: WDAY-TV, 100.3 FM

Records: UND 1-8, 7-15; NDSU 5-4, 8-13

Series history: UND leads the all-time series 163-143. NDSU is 15-6 against UND in the Division I era and has won nine of the past 11 games against the Hawks.